Saturday, December 29, 2012

Reworking an old sweater: a job for the Garde Tricot

In classic French cuisine, one of the standard kitchen positions is called garde manger, which translates literally into "guard of the food."  Among other things, the Chef garde manger is responsible for taking significant leftovers, such as an excess of lobster, and turning it into a cold dish to be served again another day in different form.  In knitting, when a garment has come to outlive its original purpose, I think there should be a garde tricot--a guard of the knitting--who reworks the knit garment into something which can be worn again another day.

Here we have an old gray sweater, made in the infancy of my knitting career (I saw with interest that this was actually the first garment I ever made with jogless stripes

Before "garde-tricot" treatment

After "garde-tricot" treatment

Although this sweater was much worn in its day, the person-for-whom-it-was-made and I eventually parted company (but not before I got the sweater back!)  For many years, it sat in a cedar closet.  Finally the time came when another person came to want to wear it. However, in its original state, it was too long and the neckline did not suit.  

The turtleneck grew right from the
sweater top--I evidently had not yet
discovered neck shaping

This garment was knit in the round, which meant there were no seams to get in the way.  Had the garment been made in pieces, the first step would have been to undo the seams, then unravel the individual pieces as needed. (BTW?  Any garments I make with seams, I always use a different color yarn--close, but not exact--to seam with, so that I can take the seams out in some future re-styling event, without snipping into the garment by accident.)

...unraveled the yarn down to the
point where the new neck edge was to begin...

The sweater was made so long ago, there was no hope of finding excess yarn in stash. The unraveled yarn therefore had to be de-kinked and re-used.  I snipped a single stitch at the edge of the neck and, as shown above, unraveled the yarn down to the point where the new neck edge was to begin. I put the loose stitches onto a knitting needle to re-knit the neck. 

Excess length being removed

At the bottom, I removed the excess length: I snipped a stitch, then unraveled in both directions, catching the stitches onto a needle.

Reworked sweater before blocking

Above, you can see the new neck and new bottom band, together with the excess length, now removed.  The neck is a perfectly standard crew neck.  The back of the garment was raised by doing three series of short rows: one stretched from front shoulder seam around the back to the other front shoulder seam; the second and third stretched from the back shoulder seam across to the other back shoulder seam.  This raised the back of the garment 6 rows (just over an inch) above the front. Combined with the bottom the neck opening being lowered, the front-to-back differential supplies the neck shaping so sadly lacking in this sweater's first life.

On the bottom band, I used my trick for transition zones, modified as follows:
Round 1: (first row of dark gray): knit all the way around, shown by blue stitches/arrows in illustration below--as you can see, this extra round prevented the puckering of the ribbing from traveling into the lighter stripe above the ribbing
Round 2: slip the knits wyib (with yarn in back) and purl the purls--
Round 3: Knit the knits and purl the purls
Round 4: as round 2: the elongated knits which resulted from rounds 2 and 4 are shown by the red stitches/arrow, below  
Rounds 5-12: as round 3

close-up of the transition zone tricks
As shown by the photo below, the ribbing was finished off by knitting around rounds 13-15, which makes a rolled-over edge for the ribbing, a trick which means that the edge of the FABRIC isn't the edge of the GARMENT)

close up of rolled edge
on lower edge of bottom band

Round 16: bind off with a chain bind off, using the "OK" alternative for the last stitch from the post about circular binds off

To knit the neck above the bottom of the opening, I worked around-and-back, meaning that I actually worked flat, knitting there and purling back, as shown by the below schematic--the green lines show the original circular work, the blue lines/arrow show the short rows at the neck edge. At each neck edge, rather than decreasing stitches, I held all the stitches live.  In other words, in the gray front section, I did not bind off as I worked the neck, but transferred all the center-of-of-the-neck stitches onto a scrap piece of yarn, then added additional live stitches at each neck edge as I came to them via short row, rather than binding them off. 

Schematic of neck edge showing short rows (blue)
area of live stitches (front and back, gray)
as well as edges with no live stitches (red) where live 
stitches had to be picked up, prior to bind-off

In other words, if you think about it, what I was really doing at the neck edge was knitting short rows--each of those blue rows got a little shorter as more neck-edge stitches were transferred to the holder, there to join the live stitches from the previous rows. Each time I came to the neck edge from either side to drop off more stitches onto the holder, I worked a wrap-and-turn

Once all the stitches for the neck front were decreased (ie: transferred to the scrap yarn) and the neck line finished, I had the back-of-the-neck stitches live (gray on above schematic) the front-of-the-neck stitches live (gray on above schematic) and a stretch between them (red) where the fabric edge (straight part of the curve of the neck) showed, but there were no live stitches.  Along this straight red part, where there were no live stitches, and using light gray yarn, I picked up stitches through this fabric edge at what seemed to me an appropriate rate.  I then had live light gray stitches all the way around the entire neck.  

The next thing I did was to bind off all the live stitches (including the ones I had just picked up along the red areas).  I used the dark gray yarn to do the bind off. Does it seem odd to you to purposely pick up stitches, just to bind them off?  The first reason I did it was to get a decorative and uninterrupted line of chains around the neck edge.  However, there was a structural reason, also: not only did I want to reinforce the neck edge along the back of the neck to prevent slipping, but I actually wanted to go all the way around with the reinforcement: the sweater is old, the yarn somewhat fragile, the new wearer a young adult fond of pulling at the necks of every garment worn.  I hope that a continuous bind off will help prevent horrid accidents when the neck-tugging begins. (Needless to say, the bind off was done VERY loosely, otherwise, there would be a problem getting the head through the hole.)

The wraps from the wrap-and-turn stitches were lifted off the underlying stitches and knit together with them.  The only exception is that, about a quarter of the way up the curve of the neck on both sides, instead of lifting one of the wraps and knitting it together, I used this lifted wrap as if it were a free-standing stitch.  This added a little ease along the curve.  In other words, this trick added one extra stitch at the sharpest part of the curve on each neck-side, and this was done to prevent puckering. 

As shown below, the bind off was worked so as to leave the dark gray chains showing on the sweater surface.  These chains are shown by the bottom double-headed red arrow.  I then picked up new stitches THROUGH the bind off by holding the yarn on the outside of the garment and drawing a loop UP (towards the neck hole) through the chain bind off--one loop into each chain, with the loops drawn up in such a way as to leave the entire chain exposed on the surface.  The thin red lines show the method and direction in which the loops were pulled up: the dotted portion is the part of the loop which passes through the chain, the top part of the loop is the actual picked-up stitch, the bottom part of each loop hides between the chains of the bind off.

Close-up of neck band

Once I had live stitches all the way around, I knit a short band (4 rows high) then worked a purl round to make a nice sharp fold-edge, then three additional rounds on the inside for a facing. (In the finishing process, the live loops at the bottom of the facing are pulled down so long on the inside, that you really do need at least one fewer rounds on the inside of a facing than on the outside.  Having fewer rounds on the inside of a facing also helps prevent the facing from rolling outwards).

The live stitches of the facing were tacked (sewn) down to make a hem inside the garment, using the overcast stitch: one stitch for each live loop. If you go to try this yourself, the situation seems like an impossible mess, with the inside of the facing at least twice as wide as the fabric you are trying to tack it to.  However, as you tack each stitch down, the mess lessens.  The final result, contrary to first expectation, is quite neat and tidy, as shown below. 

Close-up, inside of neck hem (facing)--the
live stitches have been sewn down with
the overcast stitch

The grand finale of the neck edge was to take matching sock yarn and adapt my "neat little edging" in slip stitch for the ribbing around the neck, matching the chains of the edging to the direction of the chains in the chain bind off. The sock-yarn edging is shown by the top double-headed red arrow two illustrations above.  Again, this was to reinforce the neck in preparation for the inevitable neck-tugging in its future, again, this had to be done loosely

The last step was to wash and block the garment. I blocked it quite a bit longer and narrower, but still substantially shorter than the original.

This red towel has been washed so often,
I knew it wouldn't bleed.  However, if in doubt,
use a white towel.

In truth, if I'd had my wits about me, I would have blocked it BEFORE I knit on the new neck and bottom bands: bands don't need to be blocked and brand-new bands are delightfully elastic.  Oh well, I'll try to remember to block before knitting the bands the next time I rework an old sweater (although there are fewer and fewer in that closet, as more of the old sweaters escape).

a hole
Ooo--I'm wrong again, there was one more step: like many old garments, this sweater had developed some holes, as shown to left.  Worse, it had mysteriously become stained.  The yarn was weakened over the stained area--evidently the stains ate away at the yarn.   I spent an hour or so with a dull-pointed needle and some reclaimed yarn, duplicate stitching over the holes as well as over the stains, so that the stains did not become holes as the sweater was worn.  Also, reinforcing the stained areas made it possible to give them special attention when washing, whereas if these areas were not reinforced, the special attention would have shredded the already-weakened yarn.

Once washed and blocked, the stains lessened and the duplicate stitch flattened down.
duplicate stitch over stain
As shown to the right, only in extreme close-up can you really see where the duplicate stitching was done, and only because the garment hasn't been worn much in its new re-worked state.  Over time, even that residual uneven-ness of the columns will straighten out. A tiny bit of the stain still shows, so you can tell what it looked like before the duplicate stitch--click on photo to enlarge, stain peeks out at lower center.

Below, you can see from the inside that there were actually quite a lot of spots duplicate-stitched over (and yes, I will work in all those ends before I finally sign off on this garde-tricot project, using my new favorite method, a knit-picker.)

ends left dangling from the duplicate stitch

Good (re-)knitting--TK